In 2007, several weeks after retiring as a NYS Family Court judge, I was invited to participate with a number of others in planning, developing the curriculum for, and team-teaching an inter-disciplinary, multi-session adult education course eventually entitled The 2000 Year Road to the Holocaust — An Interfaith Project of the Greater Rochester Community. Looking for projects to keep me busy in retirement and wanting to study the Holocaust in depth, a topic that had intrigued and troubled me for over fifty years, I accepted the invitation without hesitation. A deacon of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester NY with a Master of Theology degree, I was particularly interested in exploring what role, if any, my church might have played leading up to and during the Holocaust.
Though scandal be taken at a truth, it is better to permit the scandal than to abandon the truth.
Four hundred plus students took the course, which was offered on three occasions between 2008 and 2011. In preparation for my teaching assignment, I researched a vast amount of historical material and learned a great deal more from my fellow instructors. The curricula for my segment of the course became the nucleus of my book: “The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences; How Christian Anti-Judaism Spawned Nazi Anti-Semitism.” It evolved further from a scholarly paper I prepared and presented at the 42nd Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and Churches in May 2012.
In researching and eventually writing the book, I used the same approach I used in presiding over thousands of difficult and sometimes controversial cases as a judge for twenty years. Not surprisingly, as a deacon writing what would turn out to be a book critical of my church’s attitude toward and treatment of Jews through the centuries presented me with a number of obvious challenges.
For example, I had to absorb a large amount of historical data; analyze it objectively; distill it into a coherent account of what happened; consider opposing views; express my findings and conclusions in language understandable to a general audience; and be prepared to defend my assertions against critics, most of whom would, no doubt, be fellow Catholics. In identifying and weighing the evidence, however, I was determined to keep an open mind, but equally determined to tell it like it is, irrespective of whose feathers might be ruffled in the process, including those of my religious superiors.
I am a cradle Catholic, proud of my faith tradition, and an ordained member of the clergy, so for me it was most disconcerting and disillusioning to learn of my church’s 2000 year history of anti-Judaism – something not generally known outside academic circles. It further troubled me to learn, that despite the Second Vatican Council’s unequivocal repudiation of anti-Judaism in 1965, the Church’s official opposition, articulated during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, is that the Church had nothing to do with the rise of Nazi anti-Semitism or with the Holocaust.
The same forces that drove anti-Judaism for 2000 years – authoritarianism, lack of transparency, primacy of the institution over everything else, quashing of dissent, failure to recognize the Holy Spirit at work in the world outside the Church – continue today. Moreover, the same inability to admit error led not only to the Holocaust, but to the worldwide clergy sexual abuse scandals.
My primary purpose in writing this book is to state an obvious but, for some, “inconvenient” truth that must be addressed, namely, if we refuse to learn the lessons of history, we will be forced to relearn them. For, as St. Pope Gregory the Great (568-604) said: Though scandal be taken at a truth, it is better to permit the scandal than to abandon the truth.